Ancient city in upper Mesopotamia (q.v.), on the edge of the Syrian desert. The legend that king Abgar V, a contemporary of Christ, converted and that Christ sent him a towel (the mandylion) with a likeness (acheiropoietos [q.v.]) of Christ's face, was widely believed. Allegedly, the holy towel was accompanied by a letter promising that the city would never be taken by an enemy. In reality, the Abgar who converted was a later king, Abgar IX (179-216), but the legend was widely believed, and it proved an inspiration to the city's citizenry. Those counting themselves Christians at Edessa included not only followers of the Council of Chalcedon (q.v.), but adherents to Monophysitism and Nestorianism, as well as Maronites (qq.v.). The city was a center for Nestorianism (q.v.), until its famous theological school was destroyed during the reign of Zeno (q.v.). Nestorians were welcomed into Persia (q.v.), where they were allowed to found a new school at Nisibis (q.v.). Edessa was the object of Persian attacks in the sixth century. Kavad (q.v.) besieged it unsuccessfully in 503, as did Chosroes II (q.v.) in 544. The Arabs (q.v.) captured it around 640, and it remained in Muslim hands until John Kourkouas (q.v.) recaptured it in 944, sending the famous mandylion back to Constantinople (qq.v.), where it was escorted through the capital by Romanos I (q.v.). Edessa was occupied again in 1032 by George Maniakes (q.v.), who took from the city its second relic, the apocryphal letter of Jesus to Abgar. The Crusaders seized Edessa in 1098, creating the County of Edessa, the first of the Crusader states in Syria (q.v.). It subsequently fell to Zangi (q.v.) in 1146, was recovered briefly by the Crusaders, only to be sacked by Nur al-Din (q.v.), who massacred its male citizens and sold its women and children into slavery. Until these final devastations, Edessa remained a commercial and intellectual center that boasted such famous writers as Joshua the Stylite (q.v.).
   See Vodena.

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